Fighting the Red Dragon
While the People’s Republic of China is gaining power in the region while the international community idles, there are still ones who oppose their might.
Red rise to power
The communist movement led by Mao Zedong has won the civil war against the Republic of China led by Chiang Kai-shek (and Kuomintang party) in the 1950s, which resulted in the former government retreating to Taiwan. Since then the continental part has been ruled by the Communist Party, which led to the isolation of the country for many decades, and policies often resulting in terrible consequences for the population.
People’s Republic of China (PRC) used to be one of the poorest nations on Earth, struggling with famines and overpopulation. The situation started changing since the 1980’s when after Mao’s death the government introduced economic reforms aiming at creating a socialist market economy. This move involved opening the country to foreign investment and trade, thus, letting the country to unleash the potential in their numbers and national resources.
The PRC has experienced one of the most significant leaps in economic development in human history, which greatly contributed to China becoming one of the major global powers. With the highest population on earth and very cheap labour, they became a competition that was almost impossible to oppose.
Which China is China?
In the meantime, Republic of China (Taiwan) has experienced economic growth since the 1960s, focussing on electronics and Hi-Tech, becoming one of the four Asian-Tigers. Despite losing much of its territory, the country was representing China on the international stage, including the UN. In 1971 a resolution was passed by the UN to recognise the Communist government as the legitimate one, thus, removing the Republic from the organisation.
Over the years as the PRC was rising in importance and power, more and more countries have broken their former ties with Taiwanese government. The good relationship with PRC opened opportunities for trade and investment, which most of the countries decided is too good of an offer to lose out on. Corporations also started turning their backs on Taiwan, as the PRC’s market opened opportunities which some perceived as more profitable.
However, Taiwan prevailed as an economic power through this struggle. The country has a steady growth of GDP, prosperous electronics industry, and is heavily investing in future technologies like solar panels. Despite on paper being left alone, most western countries have informal relations with Taiwan, importing their goods.
Expansion and domination
In recent years the PRC has been showing its power more often than ever before, spreading its influence across Asia and beyond. The continental government started heavily investing in various countries in the region, from the Muslim nations in the middle east, through sustaining the government in North Korea, to providing loans and help in infrastructure projects in Africa. This move has had multiple consequences, but the most important apart from the economic one seems to be that PRC is recognised by almost all countries in the region as the only legitimate government, and has growing support in its efforts in the United Nations.
The government has been using this power to gain influence over a different region of the world, mainly the South China Sea. Many countries dispute the area, but because of the PRC’s desire to access the resources under the sea, they started an aggressive campaign to assert their control. Navy patrols and building artificial islands have increased the tensions in the region, mostly with the Philippines, at times bringing the situation close to open military conflict.
Apart from spreading the influence overseas, PRC took aim at seizing full power over their territory. The process of occupation and Sinicization of regions that are not ethnically Han-majority, mainly Tibet, as well as Xinjiang, has often times been very brutal to the local population. The government is using re-education camps which do not differ much from labour-camps with ideological indoctrination, where people are stripped from their cultural heritage and freedoms.
At the same time, the one country, two systems policy is slowly curbing under PRC’s might. Hong Kong, once last bastion of freedom on the mainland, is becoming more and more incorporated into the rest of the country. Beijing has begun influencing local elections, sending pro-government agents, and overall attempting to seize control over the island. The autonomy that was meant to be given to Hong Kong is decreasing every year, which is against the principles of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
However, over all these years there was one goal that was at the top of PRC’s lists, which is the unification of China. Formally, the Chinese Civil War never ended, and over the past 60 years, Taiwan has been in a state of full military mobilisation anticipating an invasion from the continent. The invasion never went into full effect, despite multiple shows of force and attacks on islands, but the state of emergency continues along with the anti-PRC sentiment on the island.
Over the years there were many factors that prevented Taiwan from being seized by the PRC, but the major one is their relationship with the United States. Over the years the US has been one of the few voices that remained on the Republic’s side of the conflict, and it continues to support the government in Taipei, however to a varying level depending on current American relationship with the PRC. The huge ally, combined with a well-fortified coastline, well-trained military, and stable economy, has so far prevented a military invasion.
Since the government exiled to the island the country was under martial law, and absolute rule by the Kuomintang party. The situation started changing in the 1970s and 80’s when the economic reforms led to a growing pro-democratic movement on the island. It has caused a change in the legislature, making it more democratic by for example introducing a multi-party system. The current government is led by the Democratic Progressive Party and the President Tsai Ing-wen.
New hope across the strait
Growing democratisation of the island was not something the PRC hoped for. Recently PRC’s leader Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of unifying China, and said that force is an option in accomplishing that “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means”. This has been met with great resistance from the Taiwanese President, who heavily rejected the offer saying that “Taiwan will never accept a ‘one country, two systems’ framework”.
This opposition may be significant for the region. Over the past few years, citizens of Hong Kong have been demonstrating in great numbers against the efforts by the PRC to put their democracy and autonomy in jeopardy. Taiwan may also bring inspiration to the Philippines which is on PRC’s radar. The same with South Korea, Japan, and the Chinese themselves living under the totalitarian rule of the communist government.
Despite the multiple atrocities committed by the PRC’s government across the country, the international community is reluctant to denounce it, nor set any sanctions. The fear of losing the access to the Chinese market is too big of a bet for them to lose it over human rights violations. Taiwan may become the symbol of hope for the region, and a reason for people to believe that there is a chance for democracy to prevail across the continent.